The Ethereal, Ancient Art of Enamel

By Constance on February 22, 2018 at 2:09 pm

The union of chance and material. This describes perfectly the ancient process for the ethereal art of enamel. To realize our signature pieces, we work with Joan Strott Alvini, an experienced artist and one of the first women to work on Philadelphia’s Historic Jeweler’s Row. Part art, part science, the look of each drop of color is as important to us as the form.


Ancient, ethereal art of enamel

Contemporary Enamel: An ancient art gets a modern update.


Like a ceramicist searching for the perfect glaze, our enamelist experiments with a cabinet of potions to create the colors, which react to each metal differently when fired. Once the chemical combination is perfect, forming the exact shade also depends on the translucent suspension of colored glass. Then, like the metal itself, the molten liquid becomes a solid as the glass flows into our grooved, organic forms, reflecting light under the surface like a pool of water.


Ancient art of enamel

The Senna collection began as a single sleek black circle.


Though our enamel designs are modern, this process is ancient. Enameled rings from the 13th century B.C. were found during the 1952 excavation of a tomb in Kouklia, Cyprus. Believe it or not, the process hasn’t changed much in the last 3,000 years!

Enamel is glass fused to a metal surface. Most often, the glass is a blend of silica (or sand), soda, lime, and borax. This mix creates a clear, colorless enamel called flux. It can be transparent, opaque or opalescent (translucent), and an enormous range of colors can be made by adding metal oxides to the flux.


Ancient, Ethereal Art of Enamel

Enamel was applied to pottery and stone in ancient Egypt, and used on metal by ancient Greek, Roman, Russian, Chinese, and Celtic cultures.


The color range and handcrafted quality of glass enamel, aka vitreous enamel, makes it a beautiful and long-lasting choice. Because the glass binds to the metal when fired, glass enamel can only adhere to specific alloys of precious metals. When worn with care, it can last for several lifetimes. The less durable, cheaper alternative, Resin enamel– not so much. More of a fashion than a forever choice, Resin, aka cold enamel, is essentially plastic and scratches easily.


Ancient, ethereal art of enamel

We create long-lasting glass enamel rings, earrings and bracelets in a range of colorful shapes.


Alvini reminds us that many of the colors we see today are made with the same pigments as those used by early Byzantine artists. Transparent cobalt blue, for example, is created from black oxide of cobalt and powdered flint glass. Opalescent colors require the addition of more oxide of tin. After the enamel is applied, the entire piece is fired in a kiln. During firing, the enamel powder melts, flows, and hardens to form a smooth and durable surface.

Enameling metal surfaces uses a variety of techniques. A few of the most common techniques used in jewelry are:


  • Champlevé, where troughs or cells carved into the surface of a metal object and filled with vitreous enamel.
  • Cloissoné, which uses thin wires to form raised barriers which contain different areas of enamel above the metal base.
  • Limoges & Grisaille, where enamel is painted on.
  • Plique-à-jour, in which enamel is applied in cells, with no backing, like stained-glass.



Production process of a Cloissoné vase by Ando Cloisonné Company in Nagoya.


We asked Alvini a few questions about her own studio practices and how she works safely with substances like cadmium and barium. Most of what Joan describes are common-sense safety measures:


“Don’t eat, drink, or smoke in the studio. Always wash hands frequently and clean work benches with wet towels or rags. Always wear a mask when sifting powders and grind under water.”


Many enamelists have struggled lately with tighter restrictions on metal oxides and other substances used in the process. In particular, lead-bearing vs. lead-free enamels is an industry debate worth noting. U.S. regulations made it difficult to produce lead-bearing enamels. The last domestic supplier, Thompson Enamel stopped making them in 1990. But with this art, it’s the preferences and needs of the artist that determine the success of the materials.


“The important thing is to teach people how to work with these materials correctly and safely.” –Joan Strott Alvini


Contemporary enamel jewelry

We have two new diamond halo designs: the Senna Diamond Halo Ring and the Enamel Arc Halo Ring.


Another important element of working with enamels is controlling the waste stream. Alvini uses a precious metal drain trap to catch all the waste she generates while grinding wet. Along with metal dust, this is sent to a refiner to trap all waste and filter out toxic materials.


We made a short video of Alvini in her Jeweler’s Row workshop. Watch below to see this talented artist’s process:



Shop our entire line of enamel jewelry here. Interested in using this colorful, ancient technique in a Custom Design or personalizing one of ours? Just get in touch with your idea via our Custom Design Questionnaire.



Worthy Causes: Pure Earth and Planned Parenthood

By Constance on April 11, 2016 at 11:01 am


The Pure Gold Auction + Benefit Bash


Happy Monday! This week we switch out the winter wardrobe for spring party attire to celebrate two of the most worthy causes we can imagine:  The Pure Gold Auction + Benefit Bash and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA’s annual spring fundraiser. 

First, we teamed up with Pure Earth’s Pure Gold Auction and Benefit Bash to prevent mercury poisoning caused by gold mining. You can bid from wherever you are on our “nuggets of pure gold,” the Bog Earrings in 14kt Fairmined, until the actual benefit on Tuesday, April 12.

“Mercury and gold mining are inextricably linked. A quarter of the world’s supply of gold comes from artisanal gold mining, which leads to the release of approximately 1000 tons of toxic mercury a year. Of the 20 million artisanal gold miners, an estimated 2.5 million are women and over 600,000 are children.” – 

To learn more about the dangers of mercury exposure through artisanal mining and our efforts to avoid it by using Recycled and Fairmined gold, read Pure Earth’s recent interview with Anna Bario and our existing blog post. 

Visit the  Auction + Benefit Bash page to see event details, bid, donate and watch a video detailing the hazards of mercury globally and mercury’s relation to gold mining.



Swing into Spring at the Young Advocates of Philadelphia


This weekend brings a chance to dust off the dancing shoes right here in Philadelphia at the Young Advocates of Philadelphia’s Annual Fundraiser in support of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania. Women’s reproductive health is very personal cause for the staff at Bario Neal and we are so proud to be a sponsor for what is sure to be the event of the spring.

Please consider supporting Planned Parenthood at a local or national level, and if you are in Philly, maybe we’ll see you at the William Way Center on Saturday night?

See event details for the Planned Parenthood benefit here or on Facebook.

Holiday Give to Education Sale: December 9th-23rd

By Alyssa on December 3, 2015 at 3:38 pm
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 Art by students in the Congreso after school program
 Our Holiday Give to Education Sale is almost here! December 9th-23rd Bario Neal, will offer a 25% discount on boutique jewelry and a 10% discount on fine earrings & necklaces with your donation of an art supply to benefit Congreso After School Program, a Philadelphia education initiative. This percentage will be donated to the Malawi Dzone development project to benefit the education and health of communities surrounding the Chimwadzulu Mine, a major source of our sapphires.
sapphire slice stud earrings
Please note, this sale is in stores only. Our New York Showroom will be open for walk-in shopping December 12th-13th & December 19th-20th from 11-6! Philadelphia location open extended hours.
Congreso’s art supply wishlist includes: beads, comic drawing pages & books, markers, drawing paper, construction paper, drawing pencils, colored pencils, tie dye kits, white tee shirts, paint (tempura & acrylic), tissue paper, pipe cleaners, elmer’s glue, & small paint brushes. Not only will you receive a discount for your donation to Congreso, but we will donate a portion of the proceeds from this sale to the Malawi Dzonze development projects– you give and we give to education.
Congreso is a non-profit 501 (c)3 organization based in Philadelphia, PA and founded in 1977 with the mission of strengthening Latino communities through social, economic, education and health services, as well as leadership development and advocacy. Congreso offers countless invaluable services to adults, families, and youths in the Philadelphia community, and your donation will specifically go to its after school program, which offers vital enrichment and educational support in academics, dance, music, visual arts, sports, science, and technology. Students in the after school program benefit from well respected programs including Girls Today, Leaders Tomorrow (GTLT), Transitions Program, Family Engagement, and Tutoring and Senior Project Support. Congreso’s numerous awards include’s top work places for 2014 and 2015, and NLCR Affiliate of the Year Award, and Leap of Reason.
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 Art projects completed by students in the Congreso After School Program
The Malawi Dzonze Development Project was established in 2008 by Nyala Mines Limited in collaboration with Columbia Gem House, a mining, cutting and marketing company committed to corporate social responsibility (csr). The Project’s mission is to raise funds for projects that will directly benefit communities surrounding the Chimwadzulu Mine, a producer of sapphires and rubies where Bario Neal sources many of our colored gemstones. Focus areas for funding include agriculture, education, environment, health, sports, and drinking water projects, and the project is directed by the managing director and local community nominees. The Project has delegated funding to the Kandoma Primary School to help pay for the employment of qualified teachers and assistants, teaching and learning materials, construction of school water and sanitation facilities, construction of two classroom blocks, and over 300 desks for students. Funding comes directly from the sale of Nyala rubies and sapphires. Columbia Gem House also conducts fundraising through specific promotions for its retail clients. With these two combined sources, the Project has 1 million US dollars budgeted for projects through 2020, making the Malawi Dzonze Development Project the most successful CSR model in Malawi.
Hospital in Malawi
School (two classroom blocks)
Consider donating one of these supplies to receive 25% off boutique jewelry or 10% off fine jewelry earrings and necklaces.

Trunk Show with Top Notch Faceting on June 14th

By admin on May 24, 2015 at 1:57 pm

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Bario Neal at the 5th Annual IAC Gold Conference

By Alyssa on March 25, 2015 at 10:34 am


From the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Mask, 1st century B.C.–1st century A.D.
Colombia; Ilama
Gold; H. 7 3/4 in. (19.7 cm)
Jan Mitchell and Sons Collection, Gift of Jan Mitchell, 1991 (1991.419.39)


Initiatives in Art and Culture (IAC) will host its fifth annual Gold Conference Thursday, April 9 – Friday, April 10, 2015 at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center, 365 5th Ave, NY, NY. Bario Neal is excited to be attending what promises to be an informative and engaging event. This year’s conference will take a comprehensive look at gold jewelry and the precious metal itself, with a focus is on transparency, trends and techniques within the gold industry. More specifically, topics such as the emotional power of this precious metal, its enduring cultural value, trends and trend forecasting, developments in the marketplace, marketing techniques, ensuring customers of the quality and ethicality of their purchases, extraction and metalsmithing techniques, cutting-edge technologies, educating the next generation of jewelers, marketing, ethical mining issues, FTC updates on issues relating to Dodd-Frank and Made in America, among others, will be covered. In addition to the formal presentations on this wide range of topics, IAC has organized private evening receptions and viewings at Aaron Faber Gallery and Doyle & Doyle, as well as book signings.

This year’s presenters include Master goldsmiths Daniel Brush and Barbara Heinrich; jewelers Alishan Halebian, Susan Helmich, Jose Hess, Ana Khouri, Anita Ko, Alison Chemia, and Elizabeth Doyle of Doyle & Doyle; David Bouffard, VP, Corporate Affairs, Signet Jewelers; Mark Hannah, CMO, Richline Group; Matthew Hart, author, Gold: The Race for the World’s Most Seductive Metal; Rob Bates, Senior Editor, JCK; Michelle Graft, Editor-in-chief, National Jeweler, Claudia Mata, Accessories and Jewelry Director, W, Jack Ogden, historian and industry consultant; Benjamin Zucker, renowned collector; Cecelia Gardner, President, CEO, and General Counsel, Jewelers Vigilance Committee; Mark B. Mann, Director, Global Jewelry Manufacturing Arts, Gemological Institute of America, and many more.

You can find registration information on this website. Click here to view full event flyer.

Initiatives in Art and Culture is an organization that aims to provide educational opportunities in the fine, decorative, and visual arts through conferences, publications and exhibitions. Primary issues examined include fabrication, connoisseurship, cultural patrimony, cultural preservation, and the future of culture with particular focuses on American painting, precious substances, the history of frames, the Arts and Crafts movement, the influence of Asian cultures on American fine and decorative art, and the history and future of fashion.

Upcoming Conference: Reclaiming the Sierra, April 20-21

By Alyssa on March 12, 2015 at 2:43 pm


Twice a year Reclaiming the Sierra, a strategic campaign of The Sierra Fund, hosts a conference in Sacramento, California–at one point the gleaming center of the California Gold Rush. Believe it or not, even though the original gold rush happened in the mid 1800’s-early 1900’s, effects of the historical mining activities continue to impact the region today. Reclaiming the Sierra is dedicated to addressing those ongoing impacts of legacy mining. Continue reading Upcoming Conference: Reclaiming the Sierra, April 20-21

Top Notch Faceting’s Jean Noel Soni

By admin on September 13, 2014 at 5:38 pm

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Jean-Noel Soni is the mastermind behind Top-Notch Faceting. Jean creates award-winning, precision cut gemstones that are ethically-sourced, cut by hand, and created without the use of computer-aided design . In his words, the unique facets in his gemstones are “all figured by man.” I had the opportunity to take a peek at his notebook and the degree of detail and geometry that goes into every gemstone is remarkable. Speaking with Jean, it’s clear that he is incredibly knowledgeable about the materials he sources, and is passionate about his process and unique perspective on the industry.

Jean-Noel Soni’s interest in gemstones began at an early age. Raised by his mother, a collector of antique jewelry, Jean was surrounded by intricate vintage trinkets as well as his mother’s talented jeweler friends. His introduction to gemstone cutting started in 2009, taking a once-a-week class at the Randall Museum in San Francisco. The curriculum was solely in cabochon cutting, or stones that are polished and shaped without facets. Jean’s interest in gemstone cutting took off.  Jean states that cabochon cutting is very precise and this experience aided his understanding in creating the dimensions for a stone.

Since Randall didn’t offer classes in facet cutting, Jean decided to take matters into his own hands. Saving money to spend on gem cutting equipment every few months, Jean turned to how-to books in gemstone faceting, including a vintage German book his mother owned from 1896.  At this point, it seemed clear that gemstone cutting was Jean’s calling. Jean picked out other books from the library, paying close attention to the detailed diagrams, illustrating interesting facets and techniques.



More or less self-taught, Jean’s work is precise and thoughtful.  He strives to create heirlooms from gemstones with the understanding that the material is finite. Never creating the same stone twice, Jean takes the needed time to design each stone. “For me, I really enjoy the challenge of taking whatever shape is presented to me and changing that into a gemstone. It can be challenging depending on the shape of the stone.”

Browsing through Jean’s instagram he is clearly prolific. “I love to work. I love the challenge and the ritual.” He was kind enough to send us a few before and after shots of stones, as well as a few shots from his studio. The transformation of a rough stone into a gem is quite magical and even sculptural.





1.87ctBenitoiteBefore 1.87ctBenitoiteAfter



“I use an older faceting machine. By machine, it is only a motor that spins round grinding wheels in different grits, horizontally. Each facet on every stone is ground down in finer and finer grits until each is polished. The trick lies in keeping all the facets at the proper depth and keeping symmetry. [This is] all done by eye and hand. There is also a whole other slew of things that go into cutting a gem including orientation of the crystal, dopping (attaching) the stone to a quill with wax so it doesn’t fall off and polishing, which is it’s own science by itself. I do not use any computer programs for my work at all. The materials are all very different and I feel that computers can only account for so much. Besides it’s more fun to figure out the stones with my own head.”


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I asked Jean about his views in the gemstone industry and appreciated his honest and critical approach. He mentioned that often in the industry, gems are cut for optimal weight, rather than precision cutting, which brings out natural beauty of the stone. “In the commercial gemstone cutting industry, it’s business as usual.” Jean notes that in the industry, people source cheaper materials rather than the quality of stone, but notes that a few people, such as himself, are searching for high quality products.

Jean prides himself in his ethical sourcing, saying the best way to ensure that a stone is ethical is to work small and stay local. Jean works directly with miners, traveling to places as diverse as Romania, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Sri Lanka. His stones are  vibrant, clear, and untreated. Some of his favorite stones to work with are garnets and zircons. Every once in a while, Jean will find a zircon stone with a phenomena called double-refraction, which creates an almost double-vision effect. “You’re essentially watching the molecules vibrate.”

Please join us at NextFab Studios for a discussion with Jean-Noel Soni about his practice on September 24th, from 5-7PM. Please sign up here:


Artist Ken Derengowski Shows Work at the Bario-Neal Store

By Alyssa on October 21, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Ken Derengowski is an artist based in Madison, WI. He showed two of his sculptures at our 1-Year Anniversary Party and Exhibition last night. Over the past four years, Ken’s work has been largely focused on diamonds, their history, their social and cultural constructs, and the structures of cut diamonds themselves.

We were honored to have the chance to pick his brain about his research, and how that’s translated into his sculptural work. He has explored using other materials (besides diamonds) which represent social conventions that have assigned values. Check out his paper models below using MacDonald’s french fries boxes!

One of the pieces he is exhibiting in our store, Diamond Ring: Ekati, is made out of palladium and costs $5487–the average price of a diamond engagement ring bought in 2010. Ken expressed his interest in diamond mines as reflections of time, energy, and resources. Here are a few photos of some pieces he shared with us this morning, as well as a link to his website.